hat a strange period we are living in; one in which Time itself seems to have stood still. Under lockdown, new strategies are being worked out, both in the private and business sphere, in the face of this abrupt, shock pandemic.
As far as the watchmaking industry is concerned, the brands are advancing in total disarray. Some, like Patek Philippe, have postponed all new product launches until next year and temporarily closed their workshops. Others, like those of the Swatch Group for example, continue to present new models and have maintained operations at some of their workshops. Most seem to hesitate between these two strategies.
So, in this unprecedented situation, what is the plan of Maurice Lacroix, a heavyweight player in the luxury but affordable Swiss-made watch segment? Owned by the distribution giant DKSH, it operates in what is known as the “mid-range” segment, for want of a better term. The brand has been transformed in recent years under the impetus of Stéphane Waser. We called him for a status report on the situation.
- Stéphane Waser, Managing Director of Maurice Lacroix
Europa Star: The brands are hesitating as to whether or not to launch their new 2020 models. You presented yours early in the year – such as the AIKON Chronograph Skeleton in February. Given the current context, has this strategy proved beneficial?
Stéphane Waser: I’d say that to date, 70% of our new products for this year have already been presented. Even if many retailers have temporarily closed their boutiques, I think it was a good thing to have done the presentations early in the year. At least our partners are aware of the new products and have already been able to place orders. That means things are a bit more predictable than if we’d waited.
“To date, 70% of our new products for this year have already been presented. That means things are a bit more predictable than if we’d waited.”
What alternatives did you use to present them, given that the watch shows were cancelled?
Our decision to exhibit at Inhorgenta in Munich in February enabled us to showcase a first series of new products in Europe. After that, my team and I flew to Asia to continue the presentations. But it was then that the crisis blew up. We showed flexibility while respecting the governmental standards then in place. Since the region’s retailers could not all come to one place, we went to meet them ourselves, just a small group of us, to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
- AIKON Chronograph Skeleton
- AIKON Quartz Chrono
What about the remaining 30%?
Since Baselworld has been postponed until January 2021, we’ll probably take part in Geneva Watch Days, which have also been postponed, from April to the end of August. The launch strategy for our second wave of new products has been put off until the second half of this year. We’re being very flexible in the face of this rather unprecedented situation: nine months of the watch industry’s year are going to be packed into three months. Despite all that, since the watch industry is used to crisis, we were rapidly able to draw up monthly forecasts.
“Nine months of the watch industry’s year are going to be packed into three months. But we were rapidly able to draw up monthly forecasts.”
On 10 February, DKSH announced some good news: Maurice Lacroix was making a profit again after several years of repositioning. But it was precisely then that the coronavirus spread to the entire world…
Yes, we posted excellent results in 2019 and didn’t feel any effects from the pandemic until late February. We’re proud to have got so far and will maintain the long-term strategy: to produce affordable, casual, urban watches that correspond to the new consumer codes, centred more on the “playful”, sporty side. We have an increasingly interesting partnership with Strava, an application that lets you record and share running data. This sport is the urban activity of the 21st century. It fits in perfectly with our image: no pretension, no arrogance, just the determination to take up challenges and be part of a community. We’re also working with a growing number of marathons, such as Zurich and Rome – though they too have been postponed due to the coronavirus.
“Our partnership with Strava is going to grow. Running is the urban activity of the 21st century and it fits in perfectly with our image.”
Let’s talk about the products themselves: what are the principle innovations by Maurice Lacroix that have already been presented in 2020?
The AIKON Chronograph Skeleton is certainly the highpoint of the start of the year. We’re continuing to expand this line with different range levels and complications. Another key development area at Maurice Lacroix is our women’s watch range. Through our partnership with Strava, we’re presenting a new, all-black AIKON Chronograph Quartz model. Besides that, new additions have been made to the Eliros collection, including a Rainbow model, a nod to a style prized by watchmakers, the prices of which are rocketing. Our take on that is a popular, unisex and affordable model! The Eliros line is aimed at customers who are new to Swiss watches.
- Eliros Rainbow
- AIKON Quartz Chrono
Is e-commerce capable of taking over wherever boutiques are forced to close?
Our strategy is based on strong support for physical retailers. Our own e-commerce platform is used first and foremost for global reference, to offer our customers transparency. Our agreements with retailers include a provision for selling our models on their e-commerce sites. They’re posting great figures from their own online sales: for example, in Germany, a considerable proportion of our watch sales by Christ are transacted online. And we’re continuing deliveries to them as far as possible, while closely monitoring logistics developments in the current context.
Maurice Lacroix presents Eliros Rainbow, a nod to a style prized by watchmakers, the prices of which are rocketing. Their take on the trend is an entry-level model.
How do you see the “post-coronavirus” watch industry?
Several theories are circulating: on the one hand, a consumer “euphoria”, like after a war; or, on the other, profound, lasting effects and general impoverishment. Humans always fall on their feet, but there’s certainly going to be a tricky period for our industry. In times of crisis, people focus first of all on the essentials things, whether health or food. As for us, it’s important to be able to respond quickly and flexibly. We’re adjusting and monitoring the situation closely. We depend primarily on the middle class and we’re hoping that the social safety nets and support measures being implemented will enable them to conserve their future purchasing power. (Ed.: as we write, the United States have launched the largest economic emergency package in their history, worth 2 billion dollars!)
“We depend primarily on the middle class and we’re hoping that the social safety nets and support measures being implemented will enable them to conserve their future purchasing power.”